Evil (bwah hah hah) … and not-so-evil

Now Playing: Hangin’ Your Life On the Wall, by Guy Clark. “I used to be an ex-bullrider, Livin’ on the edge of life itself , Now I can’t even find my buckle, Looks like I’m finally through foolin’ myself. Hang on just as long as you can, Get up whenever you fall, Shake it off, Boys, and go ’round again. Don’t be hangin’ your life on the wall.”

Mostly not-so-evil. It’s easy to succumb sometimes to the notion that all government is evil at worst, incompetent at best. The same goes for big corporations. It ain’t so, of course. Nobody remembers when they go to the driver’s license agency and get in-and-out in 20 minutes. It happens. It’s happened to me. And let’s face it, most of the time when we call a government office to get something done, it gets done. But we don’t remember those. We remember the bad stuff.

As for companies, again, it’s likewise. We remember the John Thains (the former Merrill Lynch CEO with the opulent office) and forget about the Leon Levines, the guys who give away so much money for good causes. It’s incredible the amount of good he does publicly – I don’t think he courts the publicity he gets – and I’d bet anything he does a lot that we never know about. And he’s not the only one. There are plenty of companies and CEOs and wealthy businessmen and women who do much good, not for the recognition but because it’s the Right Thing to Do.

Which brings me to Golden LEAF. Read a story this morning on Business North Carolina‘s Daily Digest, a roundup of the top business and government news around the state, about Golden LEAF and UNC-TV. Turns out the organization, which distributes the proceeds from half the state’s share of the national tobacco settlement, has given $300,000 to UNC-TV during the past couple of years. Since then, the public-television network has done some stories on its fellow nonprofit that fairly be deemed “positive.” Is there a quid pro quo?

I don’t know, and few others do either.

Interlude: Rex’s Blues, penned by the great Townes Van Zan and performed in this instance by Son Volt, which I also like. “Ride the blue wind high and free, She’ll lead you down through misery, And leave you low, come time to go, Alone and low as low can be. And if I had a nickel, I’d find a game. And If I won a dollar, I’d make it rain. And if it rained an ocean I’d drink it dry, And lay me down dissatisfied.” (Now that’s poetry right there. Did I mention that I really like Townes Van Zandt?)

But I do know Golden LEAF has taken a lot of heat over the years for some of its investments. Some think the money should only be used in agriculture-related causes, while others think it should benefit health causes. Others think it should promote alternative crops and jobs for tobacco farmers.

I’ve followed the organization a bit because I once did a story on it and its former chief, Valeria Lee. I should mention here that I admire her greatly. You talk about showing the ultimate grace under any and every form of criticism, she does it.

Anyway, I suspect some of the complaining about Golden LEAF is a ploy to have its account turned over to the state’s General Fund, where it will be gone in a second. Again, no evil, it’s just the way things work.

But here’s the thing. Most (and at one time it was all) of what Golden LEAF spends is, as I said, the proceeds of the money. It’s a giant trust, and the last I knew for share, the foundation hadn’t touched much, if any, of the principal. That money’s going to continue to help pretty much in perpetuity.

The other thing is, Golden LEAF tries a lot of things. It is building the factory that Spirit AeroSystems will use at the Global TransPark to build giant jet fuselages. It has contributed mightily to efforts to train biotech workers at N.C. State and N.C. Central. But what gets criticized are smaller projects. It gave one for development of sprite melons, for instance. One of the most criticized was for a horse park in Hoke County.

I know a little about the horse park. I went there and talked to a couple behind it a few years back. I don’t know how successful it is, the only event I’ve heard of there is the Stoneybrook Steeplechase. But I know the people involved in it were adamant that it could help Hoke County. How? By prompting development of hotels and restaurants, maybe shopping, to serve the folks it would attract. Has it been a success? I don’t know, but I know it gave those people hope for a better future, and I think it was money well-spent.

Golden LEAF’s valuable becasue it can take some chances on projects like that and sprite melons. Some are going to click and help a community. Someday one probably will hit it big and really boost a county or counties.

Even the failures can provide hope. That’s a pretty big benefit for something founded with money from selling death.

I don’t really know Dan Gerlach, who runs the organization now. I only talked to him a couple or so times when he worked for Mike Easley, who appointed him to the Golden LEAF job just before leaving office. The connection to Easley is enough in itself to make me wonder about him (while government isn’t all Evil, neither is it all Good).

But I like Golden LEAF, and I hope the state rejects the temptation to get rid of it.

Because that would be Evil.

“I, Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, have covered the entire Eastern seaboard in tin foil! And when I put my giant magnet next to my ingenious magnetism magnifier, I will pull the East in a Westernly direction, thereby reversing rotation of the Earth! You may well ask yourself, ‘Why would he do this? What would he possibly have to gain?’ Well, let me just answer that by saying that I haven’t really worked out all the bugs yet. Ya know, tin foil alone costs a lot.” _ Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz, Phineas and Ferb (for those of you without kids, it’s TV show on the Disney Channel and Dr. D is the resident Evil Genius)


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